12 Celebrities Who Were Once Star Athletes

Published on January 26, 2015. Updated September 22, 2015

There’s no doubt about it. The average person’s chances of making it in Hollywood are about the same as their chances of winning the lottery, even if they are considered to be very talented or they grew up around celebrities. Then there’s a totally different group of people. A group of people that are almost as rare as a sighting of the Loch Ness monster or Bigfoot. We are talking about people that not only made it to the big time as performers on the stage and the big screen, they also had a knack for playing sports at a high level.

It is in honor of those talented individuals that we present to you 12 Celebrities Who Were Once Star Athletes. Most of these celebrities saw their athletic careers end before they began, while in others it was obvious that sports was just a hobby they were really good at and they were always meant to be in the spotlight for something else. Only one of these individuals played sports at a high enough level for long enough to be known as an athlete first, but everyone on this top 12 list is talented in more ways than one to say the least.

 12. Carl Weathers

Unless you’re really into classic movies, the name Carl Weathers may not exactly roll off the tongue. Weathers isn’t necessarily considered an A-list celebrity, but he’s known for two particular roles that have defined his career… and they are drastically opposite. Weathers’ most famous movie role was that of the villain turned best friend Apollo Creed from the Rocky series. Years later he would star as Chubbs, Adam Sandler’s caddie in the movie Happy Gilmore.

Believe it or not, Weathers actually played the linebacker position at San Diego State University. While he never made it to the professional level himself, he was coached by another pseudo-celebrity and future NFL legend John Madden, who won a lot of NFL games during his career and also sold a lot of video games with his name on them. At the end of the day, it turns out that Weathers, and not Sylvester Stallone was the real athletic hero in his earlier days. Perhaps they should have cast him as Rocky Balboa instead… that way we could have seen John Madden play the role of Mickey and it would all come full circle.

Photo by Lionel Hahn/AbacaUsa.com

 11. Master P

Rap mogul Master P, otherwise known as Percy Miller made over half a billion dollars in the hip-hop music scene by introducing a southern style to the genre that previously had not received much attention in the mainstream. He wasn’t a great rapper himself but he was definitely a great businessman. Miller took No Limit Records to the top of the industry and almost single-handedly put Southern rap music on the map. If it wasn’t for him, rappers like Lil’ Wayne may not be as famous as they are today.

Miller was more than just a sound businessman and rap mogul. At one point during his time as a record executive, he actually took a break to try out for the NBA. Master P played in a few preseason games split between the Charlotte Hornets and Toronto Raptors over a period of time but wasn’t quite good enough to stick with a team and appear in an actual regular season game. That said, his talents didn’t go to waste, as Master P’s son Romeo played for USC on a full athletic scholarship just a few years ago.

(AP Photo/Rick Havner)

 10. 2 Chainz

2 Chainz, aka Tauheed Epps, was an under the radar rapper for a long time before he finally got his chance to hit the big time thanks to a mixtape that made it to the top 100 on the hip hop Billboard charts. It just so happens that rapping wasn’t his only talent. 2 Chainz stood at 6 foot 5 in high school and was a very talented basketball player. He actually completed his college degree at Alabama State University on a full athletic scholarship.

While Alabama State University isn’t exactly known as a hotbed for basketball players these days, Epps was also recruited by Memphis University, a school with a rich basketball tradition where winning in the March Madness tournament every year is an expectation. What makes his basketball skills even more evident is that Epps was actually recruited in the early 90s, 1993 to be exact, the year after future NBA star Penny Hardaway left Memphis to pursue his own hoop dreams. That’s not too bad for a rapper who had to wait until his 30s to make it big. Epps’ success in rap music and basketball proves that good things come to those who wait, even if his rap skills are viewed as mediocre by many.

Photo by REX

 9. Nelly

Grammy award-winning rap artist Nelly once said in an interview that he would rather have a World Series ring than a Grammy. It’s easier to say that when you’ve already won a Grammy. In all seriousness, Nelly was actually a very good baseball player and he went to several MLB training camps before he gave up the game in exchange for the microphone. Unlike a lot of the celebrities on this list, there is actually proof that Nelly can play. He was invited to play in Major League Baseball’s celebrity softball game once upon a time and made a great diving catch that impressed the crowd.

Although we’re certain that he sometimes wonders what could have been as a baseball player, he’s had his share of success as a rap artist and made enough money to have owned a piece of an NBA team at one point in his career. He may have wished to win a World Series ring as a baseball player, but thanks to his fame and fortune as an artist, Nelly might some day win himself an NBA championship… at least indirectly.

Everett Collection / Shutterstock.com

 8. M.C. Hammer

M.C. Hammer hasn’t been anywhere near the height of his fame in a long time. He of course made it big as a rapper in the early 90s with the hit song “Can’t Touch This”. He’s considered a one-hit wonder because after that track came out, he never had another song that came even close to the level of popularity he had achieved, but Mr. Hammer did kind of sort of manage to revitalize his fame a little bit with his own reality show in the new millennium, many years after he had last performed a song.

As it turns out, he was destined for stardom even before anybody knew that “you couldn’t touch this”. The rapper grew up in California as a fan of the Oakland Athletics and ironically enough was once invited to take part in training camp with the San Francisco Giants. Hammer, who’s real name is Stanley Burrell, didn’t make it in the big leagues and he wasn’t necessarily one of the most successful rappers or reality stars of all time, but his rap career did leave us with some memorable songs… at least for those of us of a certain vintage. He also made wearing baggy pants look really cool.

Photo by Broadimage/REX

 7. Ed O’Neill

Ed O’Neill is a sitcom dinosaur that keeps churning out the laughs long after many fans of the hit show Married With Children probably thought his career was over. Over the last number of years, O’Neill has brought his name back into the spotlight thanks to his starring role as Jay Pritchett on the hit show Modern Family. He plays a rich older man who’s married to a smoking hot Latin wife so basically his character on the show is downright awesome.

However, as it turns out O’Neill might’ve been on the path to riches even if he never made it as a sitcom star on television. He actually had the opportunity to play for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but he was cut in training camp and injuries forced him to leave the game behind. For those that often wondered why Al Bundy’s love of football was always such a big part of O’Neill’s character on Married With Children, you now know why. There’s also something about O’Neill’s characters and sitting on a couch now that we think about it…Al Bundy shoved his hand down his pants while watching TV and Jay Pritchett tells us about the challenges of being part of the Modern Family…just an observation.

Photo By: Dee Cercone/Everett Collection

6. Dean Cain

Dean Cain is best known for playing the role of Superman on television, and he even had quite the run as host of Ripley’s Believe It Or Not, a show that intrigued us all and creeped us out. Although he has had other roles throughout his career, if it wasn’t for an injury that ended his football career, we might have never known Cain as an actor at all.

He once went to training camp with the Buffalo Bills before a leg injury forced him to stop playing. The truth of the matter is that Cain’s career in Hollywood and sports along with the fact that he’s a pretty good-looking guy should make most people jealous. The guy dated Brooke Shields while he was still in college playing football. It’s one thing to date a future smoking hot actress when you’re a well-established actor yourself or an athlete for that matter, but you know you’ve got it going on in terms of getting in good with the ladies when you nab a woman like that and you’re still in college. Good for you Dean Cain, good for you.

Helga Esteb / Shutterstock.com

5. Burt Reynolds

One of Burt Reynolds’ most famous movies of course is The Longest Yard, a movie about a bunch of criminals who start a football league in jail. The film was later re-created by Adam Sandler and a host of celebrities who made cameo appearances, including Reynolds himself. But it turns out that Reynolds didn’t have to stretch his acting chops too much in order to do a good job in that movie, because he was once a star player for the Florida State Seminoles in the NCAA. He was actually named an All-American before a car accident caused him to suffer major injuries and give the game up for good.

Of all of the celebrities we’re featuring here, Reynolds is easily one of the top athletes. He first made his film debut in the movie Angel Baby and has carved out quite a lengthy career  for himself, featuring a host of different feature films. Had he stuck to football, there is no doubt that his career would’ve been short-lived in such a demanding sport. It’s obvious Mr. Reynolds made the right choice by pursuing his aspirations on the silver screen instead of the gridiron.

Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

4. Kurt Russell

Kurt Russell’s Hollywood acting career has its origins going all the way back to the 1950s, when he starred in a television series called Sugarfoot. A few years later at age 11, he was in a film called It Happened At The World’s Fair. One of Russell’s many roles included playing the male lead in the movie Overboard opposite Goldie Hawn, which even almost 30 years later is considered one of his most famous roles. The pair have been together away from the screen for a long time, which probably reminds movie goers of the flick.

It’s always pretty crazy when a child makes it on the big screen, but what’s even cooler about Russell’s story is that he was actually a pretty good baseball player. At one point in his early 20s he was playing AA baseball in the Texas League for a team called the El Paso Sun Kings. Sure he was never really on the major-league radar, but unlike a few of these other celebrities who seem to fall into acting after their sports careers have ended, it always seemed as if Russell had a knack for acting and sports was probably just a backup option for him.

Photo By: Dee Cercone/Everett Collection

 3. George Clooney

Often viewed as the sexiest man alive in the eyes of many women, George Clooney first rose to prominence because of his role on the show E.R. He is not only considered a good looking, charming guy, but it also turns out that he had quite the athletic talent in his younger days. Clooney actually signed a contract to play baseball for the Cincinnati Reds, but he never stuck with the team and ended up having to find something new. To say the least, things have worked out for him pretty well. He’s one of the most successful actors in the world today.

Clooney’s net worth exceeds $180 million, a number that only gets surpassed by the best of the best players in big league baseball today. He’s built up his fame, notoriety and his bank account thanks to not only his acting talents but his involvement in the industry as a producer screenwriter and director. Clooney is seen as an incredibly intelligent star and is one of the most respected people in all of Hollywood. He’s probably pretty happy with his decision to give up playing baseball in Cincinnati.

Featureflash / Shutterstock.com

2. Dwayne Johnson

We’ve decided to put Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson near the top of this list because of all the celebrities we can think of who had success both in sports and on the big screen, he’s got to be considered the one guy who was pretty successful at both. Before Johnson was starring in movies like The Mummy, The Fast and The Furious, and Hercules, Johnson was a pro wrestler… and he’s still in the WWE. That probably doesn’t come as a surprise to most people considering he still reprises his role as The Rock on a regular basis.

What does surprise many people is that Johnson used to be a professional football player and starred at the University of Miami, playing for the Hurricanes during a time when the team was competing for national collegiate championships on a seemingly annual basis. On top of all of that, he did actually manage to make it in the professional ranks, playing for the Calgary Stampeders in the Canadian Football League. Johnson has certainly made the most of his acting skills and athletic talent both on the field of play, in the ring and on the big screen.

DFree / Shutterstock.com

 1. Denzel Washington

Of all of the celebrities who used to be athletes that we’re featuring here, Denzel Washington is easily one of the more accomplished figures we’ve listed. He’s been in so many awesome movies it would be difficult to list them all. He’s also the first African-American actor in film history to win the Oscar award for Best Actor, which he took home for his role in the movie Training Day. Looking at his career it’s easy to see that Washington has a passion for sports too. He has after all played in the movie Remember The Titans and He Got Game.

He Got Game is a Spike Lee movie in which Denzel stars as the father of up and coming college basketball star Jesus Shuttlesworth (played by NBA legend Ray Allen). In the movie, there’s a scene where the two play basketball against each other one-on-one and Washington appears to hold his own. It looks like a great acting job on Washington’s part until of course you find out that he played in college at Fordham University under coach P.J. Carlesimo. Carlesimo has been coaching in the NBA for years. Obviously Denzel had a good teacher.

Featureflash / Shutterstock.com
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